Miscellanea: The Fractured Mirror
“All men by nature crave after knowing. The love of senses indicates this; for apart from any utility they are being loved (in themselves) and the most of all the sense of eyesight. Namely, not only because of doing something, but also when we don’t intend doing anything, we choose seeing rather than other (senses). The original cause of this is that eyesight out of all other senses provides the most insight and discloses many differences.” Aristotle, Metaphysics A
The opening lines of Aristotle’s Metaphysics make it clear where the natural purpose of knowledge lies: not only is it not in its applicability – it is in fact essentially in opposition to it, even in the case of sense knowledge.
Furthermore, the quality of knowledge flows from its adequacy to provide most insight and to, convertibly, disclose most differences.
Clearly, what we would nowadays call applicability is rather a negative criterion of the virtue – not ‘value’ – of knowledge, because Aristotle proceeds from- and reverts to what is good in itself, not what is good in respect to something else. To say that knowledge is good because it is applicable would be possible only equivocally, as well as to say that some practice is “according to ‘values’” would be possible only in reference to what is good, not to what is ‘evaluated’ as good.
This way of thinking cannot be adjusted to what we now call “science”, save in the accidental manner, where some reference to good knowledge always exists, but only analogically. To invert the order and take analogy for the basis of its own origin is an obvious contradiction.
However, this is precisely the type of inversion that seems to build contemporary perspective on not only what is good, but also on what is considered to be a bad mental attitude towards knowledge.
Perhaps the prevalence of pop culture is partly to blame, because, as natural sciences by themselves, in terms of artistic expression, can give ground to little more than the figures of popular art, so creators of such art (comics, movies, etc.), without recourse to anything else but physicalism in some of its numerous variants, end up imagining the man abusing natural desire for knowledge solely in the figure of “crazy scientist”.
The qualification of being crazy doesn’t stem from him craving after the perfect knowledge of natural sciences, but from overstepping the bounds of practically sound deliberation about what to do with it.
Therefore, whereas, for example, there’s nothing wrong in researching the human genome, it’s an act of hybris to go further and, say, create human-animal hybrids; at least for the time being, because the question of against who or what had this hybris been committed never really gets a satisfactory answer hence leaving the question of permissible limits to knowledge always arbitrary.
Knowledge in itself is considered good, while its application can overstep the moral boundaries; or, to be more precise, knowledge is rather neutral – whereas, curiously enough, neutrality is deemed to be good in itself – as long as it is not applied; without application it is insubstantial and relegated to a small group of people who love intricate patterns, as is often portrayed in popular modern depictions of a benevolent, absent minded scientist.
However, this notion is of very shallow historical roots.
Historical shallowness is not merely an offhand slur meant to make something appear less agreeable in the light of some age old tradition his opponent reveres. In fact it is a real symptom developed from the essential lack peculiar to the figure in question; it indicates to a curious state of isolation, because being in history, while having no real relation to past history, means being solely in – and having sole validity for – the particular, isolated, moment in it.
Let us note then that what is traditionally considered natural or essential is that which occurs always or for the most time, therefore: the exact opposite state of being to the one we just described.
Contrary to what may appear at superficial glance, this dictum is not a mere product of observing the regularity in appearances, as the sceptic or modern conservative would have it, but an approximate mental explication of the principal act implicit in everything existing in time; in contrast, both the sceptical and the conservative position are based on assumption of the existence of conscious subject constructing or deconstructing the meaning of the stream of time which their proponents then call “history”.
However, the stability or necessity actually occurring in time has to be the projection of the real essence; a real purpose(s) implicated in beings in time. The sign of this is that the real cause is explicated through time – hence the elusive, but undeniable, reality of time – yet its stability and necessity cannot be imagined in temporal categories, save in the symbolical sense – above all else by the figure of continuity, because, whereas the past is the temporal figure of the cause, the continuity is the temporal figure of the procession of the effect from the cause.
On the other hand, being relegated solely to a certain limited period of history – provided time is understood as the sole foundation of everything coming to pass in its course – renders the “purely historical phenomenon” into a pure historical particular, segregated from all other isolated historical particulars.
And this, to put it as mildly as possible, is absurd.
It is, as it were, something imagined by way of stripping the real exemplar of its properties: a-historical notion is the form of sidestepping the reality in the sense that it denies the necessity imposed upon imagination by the very nature of our cognitive faculties; the fact that every image we form and every thought we conceive are conditioned by time as it is, with all three temporal vectors undivided and distinct.
One of the conditions of our experience, then, is the historicity itself. We cannot extricate ourselves from time while we are in it, but also to be temporal means being in the particular moment of time, fullness of it only implicit, because fullness is not an actual but only its potential property, stemming from the origin the time itself proceeds from, and the moment can stand alone only if it is abstracted and imagined as existing in isolation. And fullness is the prerequisite of understanding of history as a meaningful, open ended, whole.
So “always or for the most part” cannot be denied as the valid expression of the metaphysical principle without at the same time denying the regularity which is necessary even for constructing an ideological theory of historical events. If someone exclaims, for example, that history is essentially an evolution of the class conflict, then the assumption is that history as a whole is present at hand to be understood as a whole; regularity is observed, its source methodically imagined and then used to design intellectual lenses through which the future can be accurately divined.
In this case objections against “always or for the most part” are suspended for the sakes of offering the alternative metaphysical explanation of just what creates this apparently immutable state of affairs.
It is also the context through which we can already glimpse why imagining someone like Aristotle to be an ancient prototype of Albert Einstein is wrong not only on account of being inaccurate, as it is fairly obvious that prototype was quite explicitly moving on completely different trajectory, but also because the figure of the modern man of knowledge presupposes detachment from any pre-existing prototype; the prototype is being replaced by an ideal and the temporal vector of an ideal is the future, not the past.
However, as this doesn’t make the prototype any less necessary, while denying the pre-existing one it is also necessary to invent a new one which is a more or less distorted image of the original.
For Aristotle, the effects that are ever present in their causes are the origin of the mood of thaumazein giving birth to philosophy and as such they are not subjected to change and, consequently, neither are they subjected to time. The stability of the order of kosmos is not the regularity of material patterns, nor is the discovery of it in any way related to what philosopher of today would call “natural laws”, as the lawgiving power of intellect was for ancients customarily reserved for ethical and political deliberations, not for the explication of the physical causality.
Obviously, the apparent “evolutionary” continuity of knowledge, from its ancient archetype to contemporary lab technician, is in reality anything but obvious.
Also, it is noteworthy that mentally denying the metaphysical principle never really annihilates it but merely provides the intellect with its distorted image.
Of course, the fact is never apparent at the first sight, so anti-metaphysical thought can endure quite long under the guise of being non-metaphysical, i.e. completely rooted in finite and contingent, but sooner or later it becomes clear that by preventing the possibility of thinking from the principle – convincing the intellect that it really cannot do what its natural intention dictates – it slipped in the counterfeit that is as far from contingent and finite as is the original, only in the different way.
The continuity of evolving towards the ideal is the inversion of the continuity of appropriating oneself to the exemplar. Whereas the original continuity occurs by reversion towards the ontological past, on the basis of detecting the traces of the original in what is present, and striving to follow the signs pointing to their source, the counterfeit is the image projected into future, presupposing the progressive creation of something entirely new, i.e. unfettered by anything transcending the subjective consciousness and its correlate of sense experience.
The knowledge acquired in this way has to be based on laws and applicability because what does not originate in reality, i.e. has no previous cause, has to be imagined and realized by conscious act, reality of which is provided by its lawgiving power.
Being without the cause, formerly the property solely attributable to the Origin of all, in this way becomes the future accomplishment of creation, not of knowledge in itself, because the only way for knowledge to be good in itself is that it can identify what is in reality a good in itself. Once this possibility is obscured, i.e. when the existence of the good in itself is denied, then the only path open to thought is cutting off from the ontological past, as if it were an illusion, and proceeding towards its own projection into the future.
Nothing is as illustrative of this as Science Fiction which is in a way the quite apt expression of the inversion of continuity occurring when ontological past has been denied to intellect. It is rather wrong to think that popular forms of this genre are mere trivia, unrelated to philosophy of the age, save as the pass time for those who have no opportunity to indulge into some of the ever increasing special forms of scientific inquiry. On the contrary, the imagined worlds of Science Fiction and supposedly profound questions they provoke are genuinely adequate form of ersatz metaphysics; if original questions are illusory – if the meaningful answer cannot be given to meaningless questions such as what is good?, what is beautiful?, etc. – then imaginary problems are real insofar as one keeps them real, because the questions formerly understood as intellectual are now considered to be, strictly speaking, imaginary ones. So laws of physics get bent, logical principles sidelined, consciousness gets uploaded to an external media – all that in order to catch the “glimpse beyond appearances” by force of imagination, preferably on the movie screen.
Yet there’s no knowledge in imagination as well as there is no moral good in values if there’s no real good upon which the evaluation occurs. Both figures bear only analogical resemblance to their originals; originals being present regardless of efforts to ignore them.
If we value something as good, we can do it only on assumption of pre-existing criterion of good, therefore we cannot really say that we are good men because we have values, if those values themselves are not based upon the good in itself.
Despite this as a rule we hear a lot about “traditional values”, “Christian values”, “classical European values”, whereas the subjective act necessary to create the moral value was completely unknown to classical ancient and medieval thinkers.
The deliberation about what is good was an act of making a choice, stemming from the innate ability to recognize the good in itself; in other words, it was not a creation of consciousness but an act of insight.
In contemporary understanding, however, evaluating is more like an act of creation or, as far as conservatives are concerned, an act of preservation of previous, successful, creation accomplished in the “intersubjective” sphere of life that is only analogically connected to nature by way of some principle serving to bridge the unbridgeable gap between non-human and human reality.
In Aristotle’s passage we see something completely different and difference is disclosed not only by his inferences but also by the form in which he expresses them.
For him, the good and the natural are not divided by any kind of gap, because the natural applies both to the intrinsic and the extrinsic reality; the knower is not juxtaposed against “outside” reality, but immersed in it, being himself both internally and externally real.
There is no need for subjective consciousness, because insight into oneself is not ontologically divided from the insight into reality; they are distinct insofar as intellect can distinguish what is real, but undivided because by virtue of this act it is at least as potentially real as the thing it thinks.
From this it is obvious what someone of this mindset would have to say about such meaningful questions like what would happen if someone travelled back in time and marry his own mother, what kind of aliens ride the UFOs and how should men communicate with them, or, as is the case in one popular contemporary “thought experiment”: how can we know whether we are real or just “brains in vats” manipulated by crazy scientist.
Well, I assume he would say that for meaningless question one can give no meaningful answer.
And how of which we cannot speak, we must keep silent.
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